Postcard from Villa Maria

Villa Maria is the big boy in the Family of XII, as well known to the supermarket shopper as to the wine connoisseur.  In recent years it has crushed about 27,000 tons of fruit each year.  On our visit in January 2016 to the Auckland winery, 20 wines had been lined up for us to taste … and that is only a selection of its range.  The tasting showed with real clarity the quality steps of the main ranges: Private Bin (the high quality entry-level range), Cellar Selection, Reserve (either just a further step on the quality rung and/or a sub-zone, e.g., Wairau within Marlborough) and, finally, single vineyard. It was very evident from the tasting that there is a a clear step up in quality at every point. Some are really exceptional value too – the Sauvignon Blanc range only spans £11 (if not discounted) for the Private Bin to just £16 for the single vineyard.  Buy the best you can afford as the quality/cost ratio rises rapidly. 

The real treat of the visit was dinner with Sir George and Lady Gail Fistonich overlooking Auckland harbour.  Sir George  has of course made an extraordinary contribution to the phenomenon of New Zealand wine.  At dinner he produced a steady stream of interesting bottles with the wine of the evening being the last: Villa Maria, Reserve, Hawke’s Bay, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, 2002, 14.5%, 2002 being the year in which all Villa Maria wines were produced under screw cap.   (Villa Maria was among the 31 original members of the NZ Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative, founded in 2001.) This Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blend, now 14 years old, was a good test for how wine develops under this closure.  And the answer is: with considerable freshness.  This wine showed a good deep colour and had beautifully evolved fruit but without any hint of oxidation, never mind tiredness.  It had fewer tertiary notes than you would expect from a wine of its age under cork – but was vastly fresher and had many more years in it.  So, if you want either fruit in your older wine (yes please) or for it to age a very long time indeed, pick something with the ability to age with a screw cap and put it away in your cellar.  In the meantime, I will toast Villa Maria and all its contributions to the world of wine.  

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